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European Commission

José Manuel Durão Barroso

President of the European Commission

Speech by President Barroso – "Filling the gaps: e-skills and education for digital jobs"

Launch of the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs/Brussels

4 March 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends,

Dear László,

Distinguished guests,

I am particularly pleased to be with you at the launching of the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs.

And let me start by warmly thanking my colleagues from the Commission Neelie Kroes and Antonio Tajani, Androulla Vassilliou and László Andor, for their efforts in making this ambitious coalition really effective.

This is indeed a significant initiative as we face the twin challenge of a rise of unemployment and a shortage of specific skills.

Too many Europeans, especially young people, are unemployed - and yet sometimes employers cannot find people with the right skills. This means that as we focus on solutions to tackle fast-rising unemployment, we need to better address the needs of the economy.

The business community has expressed its concern about skills directly to me on many occasions. Most recently when I met the European Roundtable of Industrialists in February. And last week I discussed these issues in a conference with Irish and European business leaders in Dublin.

Also in my very frequent contacts with the social partners, the call is made for the Commission to come up with concrete labour and education reforms to stimulate employment.

Anticipating the need for skills and minimising mismatches with labour market demands is vital for the competitiveness and long term prospects of European companies. But it is first and foremost necessary to better foresee which skills and competences would be essential for young people and the future workforce.

This is a challenge that calls for concerted action to design a system that works for the benefit of all stakeholders.

And let's face the truth; this is a pressing and tough task, and one of real urgency given the high rates of unemployment of young people. Europe's citizens and businesses have been hit hard by the crisis. And young Europeans are certainly the ones primarily and worst hit.

Youth unemployment in the European Union is more than twice as high as the rate for workers in general in most Member States and has significantly increased over the last four years.

This is a plague. Unemployment is unacceptably high in the European Union as a whole and even more so in the Member States facing the largest adjustment needs.

We simply cannot leave our youth without the prospect of getting a proper education and training, getting a first job or getting a job back. This is an economic and social time-bomb.

If unemployment becomes structurally entrenched, it will weigh down on our growth potential. And with high rates of unemployment also come higher risks of social exclusion and of poverty.

With highly-skilled young people increasingly affected by long-term unemployment, we risk a brain-drain at a time when it is important that the European Union remains an attractive place to live and to do business.

This is why boosting job creation and actively fighting unemployment is one of the Commission's top policy priorities.

Our growth agenda, the Europe 2020 strategy, seeks to support reforms, inspire confidence and restore investment; and to be fully implemented it needs your support - the support of the ICT companies, business associations, education authorities, public employment services, and web entrepreneurs.

A new model of growth, underpinned by education and labour market reforms as the key drivers to boost European competitiveness, can only be achieved in partnership. And this concerns you, this very distinguished audience of relevant businesses, public and private stakeholders.

The Commission is acting. Let me recall some major initiatives that are connected to our grand coalition.

In December 2011 the "Youth Opportunities Initiative" established Actions Teams composed of Commission and national officials that earmarked 10.4 billion euros in structural funding in the 8 Member States having the highest levels of youth unemployment. In fact, next week at the European Council I am going to report on the results of this initiative to all Heads of State or Government.

In 2012 the Commission adopted an "Employment Package" with concrete proposals to strengthen employment, in particular on labour mobility, skills mismatch, and exploiting the employment potential of ICTs. In our "Re-thinking Education" communication we stressed the need to build a skills base for the 21st century, again focusing on the STEM related skills (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Our "Entrepreneurship 2020" paper is a blueprint for decisive action to unleash Europe's entrepreneurial potential.

And because Youth is at the centre of our strategy we adopted a specific "Youth Employment Package" including a Youth guarantee, since we have to reverse the flow of young people who are neither in employment nor in education or training.

And I am particularly pleased that this Youth guarantee has been agreed by the Council, by all Member States, last week.

This is about giving hope to young people and assuring them that they will not have to spend more than four months out of useful employment or employment-related training activities.

The European Social Fund (ESF) is Europe’s main financial tool for supporting jobs and in investing in human capital, which is a prerequisite for a competitive workforce.

Let me mention an example of digital skills investment from Ireland - not just because Ireland holds the Council Presidency and Minister Bruton will be addressing you after the break, but also because Ireland offers a wealth of good examples in this area. In the urban brownfield of a former Guinness brewery in Dublin, there is now a Digital Skills Academy. It provides ICT training for unemployed young people and afterwards links them with SMEs. This project activates both the youngsters and the local companies, and this is exactly the type of thing we are promoting with the Youth Guarantee.

The European Social Fund supported the Digital Skills Academy with 450,000 € in 2010-11, and this formed part of a 20 million € programme that the Irish government ran to help unemployed people.

This shows that even at a time of fiscal consolidation, governments can make smart investments that boost growth and jobs, if they prioritise spending well and use the available EU funding.

A final agreement on the EU budget for the period 2014-2020, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), is instrumental in the implementation of our policies. It will give us the financial means and give you the confidence to invest.

The budget the Commission proposed was geared to make EU spending a tool for competitiveness and growth with a pan-European logic. Whilst the Member States in their negotiations have cut the overall amount of funding, many of the growth and jobs-boosting measures have been retained. There is a significant increase for research and innovation, compared to the current period, under the Horizon 2020 programme and for education under the 'Erasmus for All' programme. For the first time, we will also have a dedicated programme for SMEs in the shape of the COSME programme.

Importantly, we created a new Youth Employment Initiative, with a budget of 6 billion €, to support for young people in regions with youth unemployment rates above 25%.

But let's look at the broader picture. The fact is that despite the crisis there are over two million unfilled jobs in the European Union. The reason is that employers are often simply unable to find job seekers with the right skills.

Moreover sectors with significant job creation potential require an increased number of qualified workers in the years to come.

New jobs and new skills are emerging as globalisation, technological changes and ageing societies generate new demands.

This is particularly true for the ICT sector. In today's technological environment, the capacity of industry and services to compete and evolve is becoming increasingly dependent on the innovative and effective use of ICT tools.

ICT is everywhere. ICT jobs are everywhere. It helps growth across all sectors thus creating further employment.

It is in high demand in industry and will continue to offer vast and diverse employment opportunities. It also allows for new work patterns and greater social inclusion.

Most jobs already require some kind of computer-related knowledge and it has been forecast that by 2015, 90% of jobs will need at least basic computer skills.

Studies have also shown that ICT-related occupations are much more resistant to crisis than most other jobs.

This clearly means that e-skills are definitely key in reducing the risk of unemployment including for senior workers. More and better qualified ICT practitioners, researchers, entrepreneurs, managers and users are needed and will increasingly be needed.

But we have also to recognize that often students entering the job markets are unaware of the very wide range of ICT jobs available.

The stark reality, exposed by the latest study, is that Europe faces up to 900,000 unfilled ICT jobs.

When the number of digital jobs is growing by 3% each year – even during the crisis – the number of new ICT graduates and other ICT workers is shrinking.

The conclusion to be drawn from such a paradoxical situation is clear: there is a pressing and crucial need to address the shortage of job seekers with critical skills, as well as the growing gaps and mismatches between the supply and the demand of specific e-skills.

The Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe has precisely identified the lack of e-skills as one of the most important obstacles to harnessing the full potential of the digital benefits of today's rapid technological changes. And we have fully recognized, promoted and defended the need to invest in ICT training for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, let me say that clearly this is not something the European Commission or the European institutions can do on their own. Nor is it something any Member State can do on its own. It is a task which can be addressed only by bringing all stakeholders together: businesses, vocational, education and training providers; public and private companies and services. That is why we are here today.

If we want to bridge the gaps and mismatches between the supply and the demand of specific skills, we need first to build bridges between the worlds of education and work. This is why, over the last years, the Commission has been actively engaged in promoting different forms of partnership at EU level. But we do not stop here; soon we will launch a "European Alliance for Apprenticeships", to improve the quality and supply of vocational education and training, and promote partnerships on dual education.

Also of importance was also the creation of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). I proposed this in 2005 to boost Europe competitiveness by intensifying the interaction between higher education, research and innovation with a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship.

The Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) supported by the EIT bring together education, research and business to address the development of skills in a highly integrated manner consistent with the needs and challenges of the relevant economic actors.

The partnership approach is also key here. Education and training providers need to be part of a concerted effort with other stakeholders – including in the ICT sector with its great potential – to put in place such comprehensive schemes.

In a nutshell, a multi-stakeholder partnership approach is the right way to develop a skills agenda in a targeted, innovative and sustainable way.

It is in this very spirit that the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs is formally launched today with a mandate until 2015.

Some stakeholders have already pledged to carry out specific actions - on new jobs, internships, training placements, start-up funding, free online courses, among others. I would like to thank them and congratulate them for their vision and their commitment. Synergies at all levels must be fully exploited. Like the involvement of the EIT ICT Labs in the Academy Cube project promoted by SAP.

I am confident that this Grand Coalition will be a source of inspiration to attract many other stakeholders. For those of you who have not yet become active in this Grand Coalition, it is not too late. I hope that today's pledges can inspire many more of you to undertake similar actions, or to join pledges from other stakeholders.

One of the founders of the European Communities, Alcide De Gasperi used to say: "A politician thinks of the next election, a statesman of the next generation." This is a quote that is attributed to many different sources, but apparently this is the real one. I think it is with this spirit, the spirit of thinking about the next generation, that we have to move forward this very important agenda.

The strength of the Grand Coalition for Digital Jobs stems from our common concern for the next generation. Let's make a shared commitment to help the young Europeans of today get the skills they need for tomorrow. Because we all have an interest in a strong European economy of the future.

I thank you for your attention.

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